Academic failures in elementary humanity

Here’s the deal: I am paid to teach, which means I have a professional relationship with my students, and it’s an ongoing relationship that typically extends over four years. My job is to educate them in those domains of biology I specialize in. The administrators here have an expectation that I will show up, be prepared, behave professionally, and engage with students at a level beyond lecturing at them: I advise them on professional opportunities, I write recommendations, I try to help with small crises that might derail their progress.

I do not have sex with them or beat them up. This should be obvious, right? Those kinds of behaviors would be antithetical to my university’s mission and my obligations.

This seems to be a poorly understood concept at the University of Sussex. Dr Lee Salter was a lecturer there. He was convicted of viciously beating his girlfriend (warning: graphic photos of a battered, bloody woman at that link), a woman he met as a student.

This is where it gets into some difficult boundaries. She was a former student, she is an adult, and this was a consensual relationship. That part, you can’t prohibit…but it’s a bit skeevy, and says that you should be keeping an eye on the guy to make sure he is not preying on students.

The part where he batters her bloody was not consensual. That part immediately moves the relationship from slightly creepy (but maybe it was “true love”!) into flagrant criminality. That’s where you’ve revealed that this wasn’t a healthy relationship between two adults, but an abusive relationship with a man who thinks he’s the boss.

Gail Gray, chief executive of RISE, Brighton and Hove’s specialist domestic abuse service, said: “This is not a romantic ‘Educating Rita’ scenario. This is about a man who has abused and exploited his position of power and authority to perpetrate domestic abuse.”

So far, so tawdry. But what is appalling is that the administrators at this university were completely aware of his behavior, and continued to allow him to teach students, despite the clear violation of university policies.

During the 10 month period between his arrest and conviction, Salter continued to teach, the university has admitted, while Ms Smith said she remained so traumatised she was afraid to leave the house.

This is despite regulations laid out on the university’s own website which say “staff and students are subject to disciplinary procedures that, amongst other things, proscribe violent behaviour”.

The policy reads: “The University will take disciplinary action in accordance with its procedures against anyone who behaves in a violent manner including, should it be necessary, the immediate exclusion of the perpetrator from the campus.”

“The University may also seek injunctions to exclude the perpetrators of violence form University premises in order to protect staff and students from further violent incidents.”

These problems will continue to arise as long as the awareness that domestic violence is unacceptable fails to be understood at all levels. Too often, having something written in a policy handbook is a cover-your-ass move to forestall actually doing something about it.

What should have happened is that the university administration should have said, “You’re going on a trial for beating up a former student? You’re not going into a classroom until this is resolved, and are on academic leave.”

His colleagues should have said, “Nope, we’re not working with you until this is cleared up.”

And the students at the university should have been made aware of the charges, so that they wouldn’t sign up for a course and then discover it’s being taught by an accused violent abuser. There’s an element of coercion there — students must take certain courses at certain times to graduate on schedule, so the entire university has to take responsibility for the professoriate, for their safety.

We also discover that this wasn’t unusual for Salter.

Described by Ms Smith as a manipulative and cruel man”, Salter alluded to her of having previous relationships with former students. She said he attended his court sentencing accompanied by another young student from the University of Brighton.

The court heard that Salter’s relationship with that student would be “closely monitored” as part of his sentencing.

Jebus. This is a guy with a thing for young students. He’s a predator. He should not be employed by any educational institution, because he brings disrepute to the entire profession.

Yet the University of Sussex kept him on the job until only recently? I didn’t know that lecturers in media and film were such a rare commodity that they had to be retained at all cost (I know science professors aren’t; if I were tossed out for good cause there’d be a long line of applicants ready to step right into my shoes.)


  1. numerobis says

    inb4 the hyperskeptics: dude was actually convicted, in a court of law, so we can presume he’s guilty.

  2. whywhywhy says

    I didn’t know that lecturers in media and film were such a rare commodity that they had to be retained at all cost

    Lecturers in media and film are not rare, however, lecturers that can truly understand great directors such as Roman Polanski are worth holding onto.

  3. blf says

    lecturers that can truly understand great directors such as Roman Polanski are worth holding onto.

    That’s another cup of tea inadvertently inhaled when laughing…

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    The court heard that Salter’s relationship with that student would be “closely monitored” as part of his sentencing.
    As if the “sentencing” would not entail removing him from interacting with students, who were his preferred targets. I get a skeevy vibe from the court saying they will “closely monitor his relationships with students”, ewww.

  5. Karen Locke says


    Caveat: I know two professors who developed post-graduation relationships with former students, and eventually married them. One marriage is about 7 years along, and I think they’ve had one child. The other marriage is a couple of decades along (a second marriage for both of them) with no children, though she has two from her previous marriage. Both couples seem happy. So, I think the experience of professors and FORMER students getting together is not necessarily a bad thing.

    But those are not predatory relationships. And predatory relationships are evil, and there are no extenuating circumstances. Period.

  6. cartomancer says


    The student in question – the one he turned up to the sentencing with – is not a student he teaches. He is (was) a lecturer at the University of Sussex, she is a student at the University of Brighton. Both institutions are based in Brighton, and indeed have facilities next to each other in Falmer to the north of Brighton, but they are not the same institution.

    I would think the “monitoring” would be because he is a known domestic/partner abuser more than anything else.

  7. Gregory Greenwood says

    The punishment Salter received was no more than a slap on the wrist, the university has outed itself as not caring a whit about the safety of its female students, and Salter is clearly undeterred in continuing his predatory pursuit of likely vulnerable women – our society is still failing dismally to deal with domestic violence, and it is clear that the powers that be simply don’t care.

    Salter should have been immediately suspended for the duration of the investigation, and upon conviction should have received a meaningful sentence and been permanently disbarred from any teaching position. There should be a domestic violence offenders register, and he should be on it. Unfortunately, that would require a just society that actually fully recognizes the humanity of women, and we simply don’t live in one. At least, not yet.

    Until these types of steps are taken, predators like Salter will continue to abuse vulnerable women, and will continue to effectively get away with it.

  8. says

    Sadly the young student he is with now probably believes that this couldn’t happen to her, because women are taught that obviously if they’re just good enough the man will be good as well, right? If he beat her she must have made him do it and she obviously wouldn’t do such a thing, right?

  9. laurentweppe says

    There should be a domestic violence offenders register, and he should be on it.

    You’ll forgive my cynicism (or not), but if such a register existed, I fully expect it to systematically record abusive proles while men with money and/or institutional powers find loopholes to stay outside.

  10. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    This is on topic, so I thought I’d share a little.

    A few months ago, my mother and her husband got into a fight. Both say that he never touched her during the fight. She got really drunk, and she threw some pepper in his eyes. After that, he called the police, figuring that she was a danger to him and herself, hoping that she would spend a night in jail to sober up and cool off. (His eyes were irritated for a day, but he ended up ok.) This is an extremely rare thing. AFAIK, this level of violence in a fight has never happened in the relationship before, and they’re several years into the marriage.

    What happened was my mother was charged with a severe domestic violence charge, facing several years in prison for the first time offense. This is in spite of protestations from the husband, who said in court before the judge and my mother that he did not want any charges pressed. Because of otherwise well-intentioned social justice warriors like myself, but who are very naive of how the law actually works, it’s official Michigan state policy that they will not drop domestic violence charges. (It might matter a little: my mother is tiny, like 100 lb, and the husband is much bigger. Also, for reference, my mother and the husband are both very white.)

    As part of her bail agreement, the judge slapped a “restraining order” on her, which ordered her to not communicate with the husband in any way, including any communication through intermediaries. Any violation would land her back in jail pending trial. The husband, the person who was supposed to be “protected” by the order, spoke out in court saying he did not need and did not want any such thing. The judge didn’t care.

    So, also as part of the bail agreement, the judge ordered her to not drink alcohol, and ordered her to attend random drug screening. Apparently, they all your phone at like 6 AM or some ungodly early hour, and expect you to be at the drug testing station before 7 AM or something. I’m not sure how or why the judge has the authority to issue such an order – it’s not a drunk driving conviction, etc., but apparently the judge can and did.

    Oh, and it’s a well known public uncontested fact that the judge has financial ties to the drug testing company. IIRC, he’s an investor or part owner or something. Yea. My mother on bail has to pay money to the drug testing company. How the fuck is that legal? Apparently this is totally legal.

    When you add all of the court costs, probation costs (yes, they make you pay money while on probation), drug testing costs (they make you pay to use the drug testing that was part of the mandatory bail agreement), and it’s into the thousands of dollars. She would be in prison if not for me being a good son and spending that money for her. And this is even before lawyers fees for privately obtained counsel.

    My mom is a painter and artist. She does odd jobs for a living, including some rather high prestige jobs. Inhaling paint fumes from the paint that she works with has been known to trip the drug tests that are in use, which means she cannot do her job. She’s out of a job. Even if she could afford the fees with her job(s), she lost her job(s), which means she would be in prison if not for me paying for it. Good thing I am rather financially secure.

    So, she gets out of jail the next day. Where does she go now? My mother and her husband were living in a house together. The order means that they cannot be in the same house at the same time, and they cannot even coordinate for who lives in the house. Somehow, I don’t remember how, she arranged for him to leave (and he did because he’s a really nice guy, and has family), and she got back into the house. However, I think if the judge or parole officer found out about it, she would be back in prison just for that.

    So, the prosecutor overcharges her, as is normal in the US. Just another aspect of the criminal justice system. So, she agreed to a plea bargain. Better than risking going to a jury where she might face many years in prison, right? (I wasn’t so sure, I thought she could have won at trial, but I’ll skip that bit for now.)

    She got just parole for 6 months, but she is stuck on the random drug testing for that time, which means she cannot work for the next 6 months. Again, good thing that I’m paying for her: house taxes, food, electricity, etc.

    About the judge. A real piece of work. Runs on a “tough on crime” platform. Financial ties to the drug testing company, so he has a personal profit motive to ensure that people are put on drug testing and plea bargain for parole. Maybe some financial benefits to for prison – I don’t know if he has partners in private prisons.

    Also, the “restraining order” is still in effect, which means my mother and her husband are effectively separated, divorced. They cannot communiate to each other at all. I haven’t spoken to him since the night that she went to jail, again because I don’t want the judge to have an excuse for the order to be violated. The “restraining order” also doesn’t have an end date. It’s endless. We’re on our fourth lawyer now, and she seems pretty competent. It seems that the best that we can do is suck up to the judge, and have my mother participate in counseling and psych therapy (rolls eyes), in order to get on his good side. The judge is entirely free to keep the order in effect indefinitely, including past the end of parole. Because the plea bargain is a guilty plea, our legal options are very, very limited. She’s very unhappy about this, and misses him. I assume he feels the same.

    The rest of it makes sense. There’s a financial incentive for the judge for the drug testing, and to look tough on crime for re-election. The thing that my mother and I still don’t get is why the restraining order. How would the judge et al make money off the divorce? That’s what we still don’t get.

    I’ve already spent over four thousand dollars on three different lawyers, and this is where we’re at. I haven’t heard from our current lawyer in over several weeks, in part because the judge and prosecutor et al are stalling for time. She filed a new motion to have the “restraining order” dismissed, and they set a date over 2 months away (IIRC), and so she filed an appeal calling bullshit on this. That’s the last I heard, and it’s been several weeks. Our prospects of getting rid of the restraining order are grim.

    So, when people say that someone should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that due process should exist and should be followed for punishments – civil, criminal, and other – this is an example. This is an example of what happens when well meaning but foolish people implement policies that assume guilt, and without due process, and with excessive punishments.

    My mother’s story is not unusual. It’s pretty standard nowadays. I’m very serious when I say this: If you find yourself in a case of domestic violence, explore all other options before calling the police. Do not call the police unless you want to never see the partner again, you want to and put the partner through a hellish landscape of our broken criminal justice system, which is especially broken in the case of domestic violence.

    The police are not your friends. The public prosecutor is not your friend. Low level judges are not your friend – especially in Republican areas. They are ought to make money, fill their quotas, and otherwise be what they are: hired goons.

    Fuck the professor described in the OP. I feel there’s enough evidence for the university to reasonably apply a suspension pending the outcome of the case. However, I’m still seeing a very scary lack of respect for “innocent until proven guilty” and “due process”. Not all accusations of domestic violence are legitimate, and many cases of domestic violence should not rise to the level of police involvement.

    Of course, many cases of domestic violence do rise to the level where the police and prison are appropriate. Let’s try to work together to make a reasonable system where there is due process, innocence until proven guilty with reasonable steps taken for the protection of possible victims – emphasis reasonable, as contrasted with the automatic “restraining order” on my mother in spite of the stated wishes of my mother and the purpoted victim aka her husband.

    This is obviously very personal, and it’s very frustrating when people talk about this with absolutely zero experience of the actual system. It’s fucked up. Of course, actual domestic violence persons getting away in spite of the victim asking for help from the police – that’s also fucked up.

  11. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The rest of it makes sense. There’s a financial incentive for the judge for the drug testing, and to look tough on crime for re-election. The thing that my mother and I still don’t get is why the restraining order. How would the judge et al make money off the divorce? That’s what we still don’t get.

    I should add: The initial defense attorney, the judge, the parole officer, etc., all made several spontaneous statements to my mother about how divorce is the natural next step, and how the parole officer can talk to the husband in order to work out details of the divorce without violating the bail agreement. They were really pushing her to get a divorce. It’s really, really weird. My mother and I still don’t get why they’re all trying to urge her to get a legal divorce. We assume there’s a money angle in there somewhere, just like the money angle for the mandatory drug testing, but we don’t see it. It’s the weirdest part about the whole ordeal for me.

  12. Rowan vet-tech says

    That is such bullshit, Enlightenment Liberal. My sympathies to you, your mom, and her husband… and a fistfull of cat shit for the judge.

  13. hotspurphd says

    Kaleb Locke. Infuriating indeed!
    Caveat: in the 70s at in the Psychology Department at a state university in the middle of the US it was permissible for faculty and graduate studies to have romantic relationships. A poker buddy of mine had a number of affairs with students. I never heard of anything untoward with him. Another professor was considered a rat with the female students he bedded but I never heard of any abuse of power. Later The American Psychological Association decided the nature of student -faculty relationships were inherently unequal and banned them for psychologists. I don’t know where the University stood on these matters.
    One of my mentors,age 44, left his wife for a 22 yr.old,had more children, and they have been married for more than 35 years,happily it seems. In my clinical training at a medical center I fell in love with an older supervisior (female) (I was 33),and we have been happily married for 40yrs and 13 days. So these relationships can work out. My poker buddy still believes forty years later that graduate students and faculty should be allowed to have any kind of relationship they want. “Life happens” he says,” and it’s messy sometimes, there are often power differences.” Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get together. “You could also argue that undergraduates of a certain age should not be off bounds. Two adults and all.

    Question- when should Salter have been sanctioned in some way by the college? Before his conviction? People are sometimes falsely accused. Innocent til proven Guilty,eh. Is it fair to sanction someone who has been only charged? Can you keep him from students before he is convicted, like desk duty for a street cop? I’m not suggesting leniency for this guy, just wondering about the rights of the accused. He deserves prison for what he did to her I think.

    Sent from my iPad

  14. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To hotspurphd
    Oh, I have an inkling. Very related: I am so incredibly outraged that there was not more outrage about the biggest offense of Ferguson:

    The Shocking Finding From the DOJ’s Ferguson Report That Nobody Has Noticed


    In the city of Ferguson, nearly everyone is a wanted criminal.

    That may seem like hyperbole, but it is a literal fact. In Ferguson — a city with a population of 21,000 — 16,000 people have outstanding arrest warrants, meaning that they are currently actively wanted by the police.

    Most people don’t know how bad it really is, how much due process is lost, how much “innocent until proven guilty” is lost.

    I’ve heard Ferguson accurately described as a virtual slave plantation, where the outsider white leaders and cops are extracting money from the population, where most of the (black) population are criminals, which means that they have no rights, and especially with private prisons who can profit off prisoners – it’s obscene beyond words.

    If it’s this bad for my mom and her husband – who are very white – then it much be much, much worse for black people. This is the very reason that I volunteered the information that my mother and her husband are white.

  15. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To hotspurphd
    Read your link. Sorry – let me add this, and put it like this. I like that we’re trying to do something about this domestic violence, but in some very important ways, it’s backfiring spectacularly, enough that I really do advise someone to never call the police over a domestic violence case – unless you really want to never see the other person ever again (and also hope that the police won’t get a hunch that you are the aggressor and press charges against you, fucking yourself by calling the police).

    How do we make sure police officers take seriously and prosecute seriously such sexual assault cases, while also ensuring enough prosecutorial discretion to make sure that people like my mother don’t end up in the same situation? That’s the problem. I don’t have an obvious and easy solution. I also suspect that the current overreaction policies are actually making it worse for the real victims of domestic violence. When they know that charges will start at such a high level and be so hard to remove, victims probably less want to go to the police.

    Come to think of it, I do have a partial solution. Allow every citizen and resident to initiate a criminal prosecution and nominate a criminal prosecutor, especially in cases where the citizen is a direct victim of the crime, subject to review by a a grand jury – like it was commonly done in this country for a hundred years before the state governments slowly but near-completely eroded our individual right/power to take someone to court over criminal charges. For the victims who are strong enough to press charges, at least adversarial police and government prosecutors would not be an impediment like they are now.

    Of course, this only works if the victim has money to hire a lawyer to be the prosecutor, but I still think adding this as another option, an alternative to unresponsive police and government prosecutors, is better than nothing.

  16. says

    “I also suspect that the current overreaction policies are actually making it worse for the real victims of domestic violence.”

    I can confirm this suspicion — I was told directly that if I insisted on pressing charges against my abuser, that they’d file charges against me. Apparently it’s okay to hold a disabled woman hostage and rape her repeatedly but god forbid she try to defend herself and leaves a tiny scratch on her abuser.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To WMDKitty — Survivor
    I’m also sorry to hear that. You have my sympathies. Thank you for sharing.

    As I said above, I don’t know what the solution is, but there are definitely problems of overprosecution, and underprosecution. I have no idea right now what could be done to actually fix that, besides magically waving a human wand in order to better the human condition so that the police and government prosecutors do their damn job. I’d be really curious to hear ideas from others, so that I might try to form some of my own ideas. ~sigh~

  18. says

    How about better training for the police?

    He’d always meet them at the door, and do that thing where he’d be all scary-calm and “explain” (read: lie about) what had happened. Never mind that he was violent towards me. Never mind that I had witnesses to his outbursts. Never mind the person who’s actually being harmed. Just listen to scary-calm-guy, decide the victim is “overreacting”, and go on your way, officers.

    When they would talk to me, it was in his presence — there was no way I could speak up with him right there. I’d really “get it later” if I tried.

    So I can think of a few simple reforms right there — interview the victim, but not in the presence of the abuser would be a good start. And never, ever dismiss a victim as “hysterical” or “overreacting”.

    Oh, and when a victim finally does have the nerve to come forward, don’t dismiss them just because they didn’t report the abuse at the time it was happening. I had to wait until there was no way he could get to me before I disclosed. He was locked up for another crime, so I took the opportunity to report, and all for nothing. I was told that they “couldn’t do anything” to help because timing. (Pretty sure the SOL is far, far longer than the then-two-year span of abuse I was suffering…)

    As for your mother’s situation — sheesh. That’s a good example of the system misfiring. While I’d agree that there should be an initial investigation, just to be sure, your mum’s complete lack of history of violence should provide more than enough evidence to dismiss this particular incident as a one-off, and give her a warning. It’s not exactly fair to her or your dad to keep them separated over a minor squabble.

  19. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To WMD
    Many of those suggestions seem so obvious that I am upset that they are not already done, everywhere.

    Upon thinking about my mom’s situation for a bit just now, I think the thing that upsets me the most is simply the overcharging in order to extort a plea bargain. Had they just charged her with some minor form of assault and battery, with like 20 hours community service, I don’t think anyone would be too upset. I think that punishment is probably a little severe still for the particular facts of the case, but at least it’s within the realm of reasonableness.

    So, I guess I’m upset about the general standard practice of US prosecutors to overcharge to extort a plea bargain, and I’m upset about the “minimum sentencing laws” or whatever in the particular case of domestic violence. Some violent partners do warrant harsh sanctions / punishments, but I am beginning to think that for minor assault and battery like this, it should be charged as a minor assault and battery like it is – again while charging more serious forms of assault and battery as more severe forms of assault and battery.

    This is probably just a facet of my belief that many / most criminal penalties for many / most crimes are way over the top, serve no deterrence value nor safety value nor rehabilitation value compared to a lighter sentence, and just cause harm on society, in terms of the persons in prison and their friends and family, and the average person who has to pay taxes for prison.

  20. says

    I’m just disgusted that the system is incompetent.

    There are people serving damn-close-to-life sentences for a joint, but if you rape or do a little (noncon) spousal beating you just get a slap on the wrist if anything at all.

  21. KG says

    Fuck the professor described in the OP. I feel there’s enough evidence for the university to reasonably apply a suspension pending the outcome of the case. – EnlightenmentLiberal@11

    Did you read the OP, let alone the linked article? Salter has been convicted. He should be out of a job, and in prison.

    If you find yourself in a case of domestic violence, explore all other options before calling the police.

    Assuming your account is accurate, I’m sorry for your mother, her husband and yourself, but you’re confounding two wildly different cases, in two different countries, with very different police forces and legal systems. To say Salter’s victim should have “explored all other options” before calling the police is grossly insensitive at best.

  22. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Did you read the OP, let alone the linked article? Salter has been convicted. He should be out of a job, and in prison.

    Sorry, apparently I fail at reading.

    To say Salter’s victim should have “explored all other options” before calling the police is grossly insensitive at best.

    Never said that.

  23. says

    Well, one thing would be to tear down the US system of plea bargains.
    While those exist in other countries like Germany, they don’t exist in the same way. While there can be a plea bargain in Germany it cannot be reached without a trial and a court still has to determine whether you’re actually guilty or not.

    I’m sorry for your mum’s situation.